The unprecedented two-week visit to the US by Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, during which he held parleys with the US military authorities, security establishment and Secretary of State John Kerry has been in the limelight with regard to its purpose as well as the outcome. In his interaction with the top military and civil officials, the COAS straightforwardly pointed out the co-relationship of regional problems including Pakistan’s sacrifices during war on terror, successes of the military operation Zarb-e-Azb, Afghanistan factor, US blame game, Indiaâ€™s anti-Pakistan campaign etc. in order to remove hurdles in the Pak-US relations.
The visit of the COAS came at a time when a report of the US Department of Defence revived old blame game against Pakistan. But, after the successful visit of General Raheel, it can be assertively said that the nature of the Pak-US relationship is perceptibly changing for the better. However, it would be unwise to assume that the years of mutual mistrust and antipathy will be undone in a few days or weeks. No matter how much things may improve, there is always going to be a frisson of edginess, but the recent signals are undeniably good. The bottom line is that both countries need one another in the short-to-medium term though not necessarily for identical reasons. The recent visit was stretched from one to two weeks and the American and Pakistani militaries are now likely to be reading off the same page on most, but not all, issues. Nothing is ever black and white, no matter how the politicians paint the picture â€” and nuance is everything.
The Kashmir issue is a case in point and the recent flare-up prior to the visit by the Indian prime minister to the state, which has seen six militants and 11 Indian security forces killed. The US has cautioned against making any assumptions linking Pakistan to the incident, the US State Department spokesperson said that it would be unwise to jump to any conclusions in response to a question from a journalist seeking to implicate Pakistan. She unequivocally rejected the premise of the question.
Following hard on the heels of the Kashmir incident there was an event of very considerable import â€” with potentially far-reaching implications. The Americans have handed to Pakistan a leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Latifullah Mehsud, whom they captured in Afghanistan last October. The capture incensed the Afghan government of the time, and the current Afghan government has not been involved in the transfer either â€” which may not please it any more than its predecessor. Assurances are said to have been given by Pakistan as to the â€œhumaneâ€ treatment of Mehsud, but the Americans would be watching closely as to where he goes â€” or does not go â€” once in Pakistani hands. Potentially this is a major confidence-builder and if Pakistan ‘handles’ Mehsud to the satisfaction of his erstwhile captors, there will be dividends, no doubt. But if he disappears into the undergrowth to reappear red in tooth and claw and once again battling on the side of the extremists, the dividends will be negative rather than positive.
Taken together, these events themselves aggregate to a shift away from the confrontational style of engagement that has characterised the relationship between the two countries since the dark days of Raymond Davis and the 2011 Salala incident that devoured 24 Pakistanis soldiers.
We have to understand that there is a delicate balance in bilateral and trilateral relations with Pakistan, India and the US each at a point on the triangle in a broader spectrum. Outside the closed geometry, there is Afghanistan and China, both of whom are closely interested in the nature of the relationship between the three countries. India is experiencing a nationalist resurgence under the new Modi government and America, led by a weakened president, is looking to a success in foreign policy that may bolster the Democratic Party fortunes among the electorate back home.
Nevertheless, the visit also needs to be viewed in the backdrop of the recent visit of the Afghan President to Pakistan during which both the countries agreed to work together to fight the menace of terrorism, joint management of the porous border, enhancement of economic ties between the two countries and the request by the Afghan President for the training of Afghan troops by the Pakistan Army. The tripartite summit of the UK, Afghanistan and Pakistan in London is also a link in the same chain. While the military leadership is tasked to sort out matters relating to security and relations between the two military establishments, the civilian leadership is engaged in sorting out matters at the political level. US Secretary of State John Kerry also welcomed the progress on improvement of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and assured unflinching US support in carrying that process further, emphasizing the need for ever increasing cooperation between Pakistan and the US at the military as well as political level.
With regard to the outcome of the visit, it can safely be inferred that it has been very successful in the context of its objectives. It has given a new dimension to military ties between the two countries. The General convincingly advocated Pakistan’s unswerving commitment to fight terrorist groups without any distinction and cleared doubts in this regard which have been frequently aired by US authorities. Pakistan Army’s contribution to eliminating terrorism and the sacrifices made by its soldiers were duly acknowledged. General Raheel made it a point to urge the desirability of the US and Afghan government taking action against TTP terrorists sheltering in Kunar and Nooristan provinces of Afghanistan, who were launching frequent attacks on Pakistan security forces along the Pak-Afghan border. This issue has invariably remained a subject of discussion during the interaction between US and Pakistan military and the civilian leaders on both sides for quite some time now. Even before launching Zarb-e-Azab, General Raheel visited Afghanistan to seek cooperation against TTP terrorists based in Afghanistan. Reportedly, US authorities have agreed to step up air strikes, including drone attacks on Pakistani militants sheltering across the border in Afghanistan.
That perhaps could be termed as the biggest success of General Raheel’s visit to the US.